The Inextricable Link Between Gender and Race Within Fascist Germany

In remembering the Holocaust, the Final Solution and genocidal nature are often what comes to mind. While Hitler’s persecution of the Jewish peoples was certainly paramount to his regime, it was hardly where the oppressive practices of the regime ended. It is therefore important to widen the scope in considering victimhood of the Third Reich. Additionally, it is important to ask how such oppression was accomplished. In looking to the Nazi regime’s attitudes towards and campaigns against queer peoples, it becomes clear that gender and race are actually very closely linked in the regime’s final goal of racial purity as well as in the daily regulation of peoples lives. 

In “Lesbianism, Transvestitism, and the Nazi State: a Microhistory of a Gestapo Investigation, 1939-1943,” Marhoefer works towards a more inclusive understanding of Nazi victimhood than has previously manifested in commemorations of the Holocaust. She particularly looks at the memorial in Tiergarten for the way that it problematically excludes Nazi’s lesbian and overall gender nonconforming victims. Marhoefer discusses the way that by only considering state oppression, it ignores the lesbian and gender nonconforming victims who might not have been criminalized in the same way as gay men, but nonetheless faced violence and hostility. Moreover, anxieties over lesbianism and gender nonconformity in Nazi Germany were specifically linked to concerns over the regime’s goals of racial purity. Indeed, if women were permitted to love women or if women were to embody masculinity, how could the Aryan race be secured? Not only did lesbians threaten gender norms but they were perceived as acutely un-German, as Marhoefer writes. While lesbianism may not have been subject to criminal law, it was nonetheless under constant surveillance by party members and neighbours which often incited hostility and violence. 

The relationship between gender and race can also be seen in Kühne’s exploration of the malleability of masculinity in “Protean masculinity, Hegemonic Masculinity: Soldiers in the Third Reich.” That masculinity was necessarily protean under the Nazi regime brings to mind the theme of pragmatism which has emerged throughout the course. The way that soldiers could inhabit both traditionally feminine and masculine sensibilities was central to their role in building the Aryan race. To take an example, it was important for soldiers to represent a certain hardness that was contrasted with Jewish weakness. It was also important for soldiers to be hardened in emotions and morals so that they could be decisive and quell any concerns about killing in service of the larger goal of racial purity. 

By considering the wide reach of victimhood under Nazi Germany, we can move away from the limited study of the strictly hegemonic, though very real, state oppression and come to a more nuanced understanding of the way that violence under Nazi Germany was disseminated and against whom. 

One Reply to “The Inextricable Link Between Gender and Race Within Fascist Germany”

  1. I appreciate the connection you make between gender and race in Kühne’s article, as Nazi Germany clearly attributed different characteristics to Jewish and Germany men. According to Kühne, “Aryan soldier-men embodied absolute hardness, whereas Jewish men represented the opposite: an effeminate, weak manliness.”

    I would have liked to see this blog pull apart the connections between gender and race in the Marhoefer reading a bit more. You write that, “if women were permitted to love women or if women were to embody masculinity, how could the Aryan race be secured?” But this doesn’t capture the race angle of lesbianism. If the concern was solely over German women contributing to society as mother’s, then why were Aryan lesbians treated differently than their Jewish counterparts? Perhaps breaking down the Totzke example and deciphering why Aryan lesbians were let off with a warning while Jewish women were “acted against her swiftly and decisively” could further the race argument.

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